Ferber Method Sleep Training
Struggling with sleep for the entire family? Does your child suffer from frequent night wakings and you’re struggling? Are you constantly using sleep associations, such as nursing, rocking or patting to get your baby asleep at bedtime or back to sleep in the night and it’s no longer sustainable?
If so sleep training might be for you. If you are thinking about this for solving child sleep problems, there are some methods you can use, one of which is the very popular Ferber method, also known as “Graduated Extinction”.
This is a technique developed by Richard Ferber M.D in the 1980’s, albeit slightly modified in the early 2000’s. Richard Ferber is a physician and specialist in pediatric sleep disorders based at a children’s hospital Boston, Massachusetts, and author of the book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.
But what is the Ferber sleep training method – also known as “Ferberizing” – and how does it work? Let us explain by discussing the following:
WHAT IS THE FERBER METHOD?
The Ferber method is a form of “crying it out” sleep training process to teach children to self-settle, so that they can fall asleep on their own.
Once children are falling asleep without support, they are more likely to get back to sleep when they wake in the night. And infants wake a lot in the night as they sleep in cycles of only 45 minutes.
Whereas the full “crying it out” – or “extinction” – involves not going back into the baby’s room at all during the process of the baby trying to re-settle, the Ferber sleep method does involve parents going back into the room at timed intervals, with the amount of time increasing at each interval stage. These become increasingly longer intervals over the nights you are doing it which Ferber calls the ”progressive waiting approach”.
For each check-in on your baby, the Ferber method advises to provide your baby with some physical reassurance for no more than a minute or two. This physical reassurance and comfort shouldn’t be in the form of picking up and cuddling, but instead some patting or rubbing and some gentle voice soothing such as shushing and a phrase like “sleepy time”.
HOW DOES THE FERBER METHOD WORK?
Below we will show you how it works on a day by day basis using the chart, but the Ferber sleep method itself is fairly straightforward to follow. Here’s how it works:
Firstly, you would do the bedtime routine as normal, making it as relaxing and wind down as much as possible.
Once your baby is ready for sleep, you would put them in their crib with the room fully dark, tell them goodnight and then leave the room.
If your baby cries when you leave the room, you would wait for a set amount of time before going back into the room, providing some brief comfort in the form of patting or rubbing and your soothing voice, and then leave the room again. You would not pick your baby up when you go into the room, leaving them in their crib the whole time until they fall asleep.
You would then repeat the last step at timed intervals, with these intervals gradually increasing in length after subsequent visits to your baby’s room, doing this until your baby eventually falls asleep on their own.
This is repeated every time your baby wakes during the night and also for daytime naps, with the end goal being that the baby will settle independently and won’t have any sleep associations which were the likely cause of so many wakings.
THE FERBER METHOD CHART
So how do you actually implement this method of sleep training from a practical perspective?
In Ferber’s book Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, he provides a step by step approach of how long to be out of your baby’s room at each interval. This is shown neatly in the Ferber method chart which is laid out below.
The first period of time out of the room on night 1 should be 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and all subsequent check-ins after that should be for 10 mins. You would do this for as long as it takes until your baby settles to sleep. You would then repeat the same approach from bedtime in the middle of the night each time your child wakes.
On the second night this will increase from starting at 3 minutes to 5 minutes and so on over subsequent nights (the progressive waiting approach). This is how the 7 night schedule would look:
First check-in: 3 minutes
Second check-in: 5 minutes
Third check-in: 10 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 10 minutes
First check-in: 5 minutes
Second check-in: 10 minutes
Third check-in: 12 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 12 minutes
First check-in: 10 minutes
Second check-in: 12 minutes
Third check-in: 15 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 15 minutes
First check-in: 12 minutes
Second check-in: 15 minutes
Third check-in: 17 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 17 minutes
First check-in: 15 minutes
Second check-in: 17 minutes
Third check-in: 20 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 20 minutes
First check-in: 17 minutes
Second check-in: 20 minutes
Third check-in: 25 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 25 minutes
First check-in: 20 minutes
Second check-in: 25 minutes
Third check-in: 30 minutes
Subsequent check-ins: 30 minutes
It’s not essential to follow these times exactly, but having predetermined check-in times, with progressive waiting, can help you be more consistent with what you are doing.
According to Ferber, the increased time intervals are important for gradually encouraging your baby to do more of the self-soothing on their own. It’s also known to be most difficult in those first 3 nights, with nights 2 and 3 often being more difficult because your baby has learned what is happening – and they can subsequently become more upset and frustrated because of this – and you have longer periods out of the room.
You may start to see improvements in how long it takes your baby to fall asleep on the third or fourth night, and how many times they wake during the night, in nights four to seven.
If you don’t, it might be worth re-assessing whether this is the right method for you and possibly finding another method more suitable to solving your child’s sleep problems.
IF YOU USE IT, WHEN TO START THE FERBER METHOD?
The Ferber sleep training method should not be used before a baby is 6 months of age. Whilst many families can start sleep training their babies younger than 6 months – and we start at 5 months at The Daddy Sleep Consultant’s – we do not recommend you start the Ferber method before 6 months.
The reason being that according to Safe Sleep Principles, you should not leave your baby on their own for the first 6 months of their lives and the Ferber method involves leaving them alone for long periods of time. Our approach doesn’t involve leaving your child, hence we can start earlier than 6 months if you work with us.
Does this method work for older babies? If you do use the Ferber method for your child, we recommend you do it for younger babies as in our experience of working with clients who have tried this method unsuccessfully before they come and work with us, it’s less successful once babies are a little older, more socially aware and a lot smarter about what is happening.
As they get older and separation anxiety starts to develop – from about 9-10 months upwards – many babies understand what you are doing and when you are coming back into the room, and more prone to getting very worked up and possibly even being vomiting.
Unfortunately this is what often gives baby sleep training a mixed reputation, when it really doesn’t need to be as harsh as this.
CAN YOU USE THE FERBER METHOD FOR NAPS?
Yes, it is recommended that you would use it for all sleep situations. Consistency is a big part of any form of sleep training and so it is recommended to use the Ferber method for naps too; you would follow the same approach as you did the previous bedtime.
It’s always important to start any sleep training method at nighttime sleep– that is when a baby’s sleep pressure is at its highest, i.e. they are tired and ready for a longer stretch of sleep. Making that initial change in the day, when babies are tired but not “night tired” will make it more difficult for everyone.
Babies also have serious FOMO (fear of missing out) at the best of times, so trying to get them to learn a new way to fall asleep for the first time in the middle of the day is much more challenging.
From our experience of working with babies, if you were to use Ferber method, we would recommend you focus less on set times and wake windows for daytime naps, and more on your baby’s sleep cues for when to put them down in their cot during the day. Understanding when a baby is ready for a nap – i.e. before they are overtired – will make it a lot easier for the child fall asleep. Overtired babies fight sleep, make the settling process longer, more difficult leading to more upset for themselves and for you.
HOW LONG DOES THE FERBER METHOD TAKE TO WORK?
All babies respond to ferber sleep training differently so it’s hard to be precise. Also, this method of sleep training isn’t for every parent due to the often excessive crying and not being with your baby when they are upset. As parents we are wired to respond to our children when they are upset and the thought or act or leaving our child to cry on their own can make us feel uncomfortable.
But if you feel like you would be able to attempt this way of improving your baby’s sleep, Ferber believes that you can see improvements in your baby’s sleep habits, their settling and reduced crying in as little as 3-4 nights and significant improvements in a week. This doesn’t mean that your baby will sleep through the night and never wake up in the night again – they may need feeding, they may go through a sleep regression, they may be in a bad spell of teething – but the view is that sleep will improve for everyone.
TIPS TO MAKE THE FERBER METHOD WORK
Whilst sleep training is often key to improving baby sleep habits, it’s not the only thing that is important to the Ferber sleep training success. For example, you also should consider the sleep environment, the bedtime routine and the daytime routine.
Always have your baby’s sleep environment as dark as possible during the night and for naps. Any bit of light can stimulate a child making it more difficult for them to fall asleep, and also encourage them to wake earlier than they normally would.
Have an established bedtime routine which ensures your baby or toddler knows night time sleep is coming and their body is more prepared for it.
Look out for your baby’s sleep cues, especially during the day. Whilst it might be helpful to follow set time for your baby’s naps and bedtime, understanding when they are tired and ready for sleep is most important. They are more likely to settle quicker and stay asleep longer, rather than if they went to bed overtired.
Be consistent. Children thrive off consistency because they then understand what is happening. Whilst sleep training can be hard, it’s only ever for a short period of time.
WHAT ARE THE PROS & CONS OF THE FERBER METHOD?
We’ve talked about how the Ferber method actually works and how to implement it, but is it a good method to sleep train your baby? Or the Ferber method harmful to your child? Below are some of the pros and cons of this approach.
Some of the benefits of the Ferber method are:
Improved sleep for everyone in possibly as little as a week’s time; your baby might even sleep through the night.
Some babies get more agitated when their parent or caregiver is in the room and they are trying to self-soothe.
You can probably do this without the cost of a sleep consultant, though some other baby sleep consultants also do use this approach, or their own version of this (often known as “check-in”).
Easy approach to follow, even though it can be difficult emotionally, especially on the first night.
Whilst there are definitely some perceived benefits, there are downsides in our opinion:
You are leaving a young baby to do something they’ve never done before on their own. This can be incredibly upsetting for both baby and parent/caregiver, especially in the first few nights.
There is no guidance provided on night feeding or night weaning your child in the middle of the night
Your baby can learn that when they need help or upset by something, you will not be there to help them even when the baby continues to cry.
Most babies do not respond well to it as they need the extra comfort and reassurance of someone with them.
Children cry – often quite a lot – especially on the first night.
It simply might not work and many parents can be doing this for a couple of weeks, meaning lots of tears, emotions and not necessarily the outcome desired. This may also lead to parents wanting to avoid sleep training in the future or feel even more upset when they hear their child cry at other simple things.
Like with anything, there are pros and cons of this approach. There is also lots of conflicting views online about where parents should use this method or not, and how successful it really is. There is no doubting it can be successful for the right baby and family, but the downsides should always be weighed up against the potential success.
ARE THERE MORE GENTLE SLEEP TRAINING OPTIONS AVAILABLE?
Yes, absolutely, and that is why The Daddy Sleep Consultant do not sleep train using the Ferber method. We only use gentle sleep training in our sleep consultancy. There are a few different gentle methods which you can use for your infant, which are listed below:
THE PICK-UP/PUT-DOWN METHOD
This method is aimed at “no-cry” sleep training as the approach involves you picking up your baby from their crib the moment they cry. Once they are settled, you put them into the crib to try again. If they cry, you pick them up once more and then repeat that approach until you put them down and their calmer, eventually falling asleep.
THE FADING METHOD
This method involves switching sleep associations such as going from breast or bottle feeding to sleep with another, such as rocking or singing. The idea is that by switching from sleep associations as strong as feeding, to something like rocking or singing, you can gradually reduce the child’s dependency on this to fall asleep over time.
SLEEP TRAINING CHAIR METHOD
The chair method involves you staying in the room with your child but with no physical comfort. Over a number of nights, including in the middle of the night and for naps, you will move your chair further away until you leave the room, which should be when your child is more capable of falling asleep on their own and eventually – hopefully – will sleep through the night.
We explain a little more on how these methods work, and the pros and cons of these methods in our sleep training methods article.
OUR VIEW OF THE FERBER METHOD
At The Daddy Sleep Consultant we do not use the Ferber method of sleep training or any form of “extinction” method where parents leave their baby on their own to settle to sleep themselves.
Whilst we acknowledge that the Ferber method works for some children, who wants to hear their baby cry in a different room? We do not believe it’s kind, comforting or necessary and believe there are more gentle sleep training methods which teaches babies to fall asleep and not rely on strong sleep associations. You can buy our online sleep training course below which is easy to follow, you will see results in a matter of a few nights and it’s also more gentle than the Ferber Method.
Online Sleep Training Course